Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Jasper's Boardwalk Cafe is one of the few all-organic restaurants in Arkansas. It isn't close by any means — and any way you try to make it into town, you're going to have to take a two-lane windy highway to get there. Doesn't seem like the sort of place you'd find a fantastic locally raised steak or fresh-from-the-sea fish, but it is.
The little establishment on Scenic Hwy. 7 used to be a Dairy Diner. Now it's a flourishing little restaurant right next door to the Arkansas House, a bed and breakfast run by the same owners. The brick and stone construction is particularly Ozarkian in nature.
Together with a companion, we chose a nice warm afternoon to make a day of the drive up to Jasper and back home, with our choice of restaurant already made. There were few around when we arrived, and we received prompt attention.
We perused the menu over organic sodas, and were soon greeted with the early sides for our selections. That meant organic tortilla chips and salsa — a tomato-heavy cilantro and what tasted like a basil concoction that was light and fruity and suggested local farmery. For our companion, it meant soup — a housemade clam chowder (the soup of the day, $4 cup or $6 bowl) that had never seen the inside of a can. The fresh chunks of clam were almost salmon pink, and instead of the thick white Campbell's Soup-like consistency we've all experienced from time to time, this chowder was a light and breezy broth with cubes of skin-on potato and bits of other veggies, too.
We were also quite pleased with our salads ($5 a la carte or free with entree) — just locally grown baby greens, tomatoes and white cheese from a local dairy paired with a mango-poppyseed dressing. Simple and surprisingly earthy.
Our food seemed to come out all at once. Our companion was soon ogling his flame broiled buffalo steak ($23), a tender New York strip from free range American buffalo raised on nearby Ratchford Farms. He wasn't given a choice. He was told it would be cooked medium rare and it was — absolutely the right choice. The meat was similar to a beef steak, and almost tasted the same. The steak was spiced with just salt, pepper and a few herbs, much like the fresh dug potatoes grilled in olive oil and spices (comes with the meal or $3 a la carte) it was served with. The potatoes, by the way, were perfect.
We also tried a house specialty, the elk chili over cheese enchiladas ($15). Very surprising. We were expecting something much greasier. The organic grain tortillas were stuffed with fresh organic white cheese and covered with a thick layer of elk chili, which tasted enough of elk to not just taste like chili. That is to say, it wasn't covered up with so much spice that you couldn't tell it was elk. I was a bit surprised by the accompanying side — a vegetable and rice stir fry full of onions and cauliflower and more fiber than you'll find in a good walking stick.
The menu also includes several other types of locally grown goods, such as grass-fed Newton County beef and free-range chicken from Little Portion Monastery. There are also sandwiches and salads for the diner searching for lighter fare.
The food was good even though it was obvious we were paying for the chance to eat locally oriented, whole-organic. But all we'd consumed before paled in comparison to the Black Walnut Pie ($5 a slice or $24 for a whole pie). It's a good deal and good for your soul. Black and English walnuts are cooked together with cane syrup and sorghum molasses and poured into a hand-pressed crust before baking. This pie doesn't know what corn syrup is; it's too busy being dark, mysterious and coma inducing, all at the same time. We plan to stop through again this summer — and that pie had better be waiting for us.
215 E. Court St.
Jasper (off Scenic Hwy. 7)
The Morgans, who own and run Boardwalk Cafe, serve meats and produce from 35 area farms and run their own beef farm as well. Herbs are grown on the property. They're also using “green” products in their paper goods and are trying to recycle anything they can't use again themselves.
(will change in June when summer arrives)
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday. 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Wednesday.
Credit cards accepted. No alcohol.